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UN General Assembly 76th Session: Analysis of high-level statements

In our just-in-time reporting from the 76th UNGA, you can find:

  • Who said what. We’re looking at each country’s digital priorities in terms of AI, data, cybersecurity, online inclusion, the governance of digital public goods and commons, and more. We’re using our taxonomy of 50+ policy issues, to make it easy for you to track the subjects of interest
  • Our Common Agenda. We’re also expecting countries to react to the UN Secretary-General’s report, Our Common Agenda. Published in September 2021, the report sets out priorities and future activities on pressing global issues such as health, climate change, and security. It also deals with emerging questions related to the rights of future generations and the need for a new social contract for digital and other developments ahead of us. You’ll be able to follow how countries respond to the UN Secretary-General’s report in terms of priorities and their proposals for concrete actions.

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27 September: Linked destinies

By reminding us of the extent to which our destinies are linked – for better and for worse – the pandemic crisis has reminded us of the value of what has united us at this organization for over 75 years. The will to cooperate, the primacy of law over force, unconditional respect for the human person: the principles of our Charter have not lost any of their meaning. In fact, quite the opposite. Today’s crises and challenges have made them even more essential. Our security, our health and our planet are now common goods, which together we must strive to preserve. This imperative is not abstract, it is not an ideal. It is, in very concrete terms, the perspective of each of our choices. And just as definitively, it is our punishment each time we are divided, each time we give up, each time we are powerless. Because in a world of exchanges and interdependencies, a world with environmental emergencies, a world facing worrying attitudes of brutalization and the constant temptation of unilateralism, everything that we do together – and conversely, everything that we fail to do – involves us all. We must be aware of this and learn lessons from it. Together.

France Minister Addresses United Nations General Debate 76th Session

Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, addresses the general debate of the 76th UNGA on 27 September 2021. (Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe)

Jean-Yves Le Drian, French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, strongly called for a promotion of a multilateral order in his speech adding that ‘the very meaning and credibility of multilateralism is at stake’.

‘Our Common Agenda’

The latest call to reinvigorate multilateralism, the Secretary-General’s ‘Our Common Agenda’ received 3 votes of confidence on 27 September. Nepal expressed support for the report’s focus accelerating the implementation of existing commitments. Tunisia stressed its readiness to actively engage with everyone to implement the agenda. Timor-Leste revealed it has contributed a sum of $US50,000 to support the Secretary-General’s efforts.

Digital issues

Cyberconflict

Belarus noted that ‘The negative dynamics in the field of global security are growing steadily, including due to hybrid wars’. The country also expressed its belief that a hybrid war is being waged against Belarus from all directions, including the accusations against Belarus waging a hybrid war against the EU. Iceland highlighted how the complexity of modern conflicts has grown with the appearance of cyberthreats and disinformation.

Cybercrime

Cameroon defined cybercrime as one of the scourges plaguing humanity, Niger as one of the challenges of the 21st century, while Côte d’Ivoire named it a transnational threat.

Violent extremism 

France invited international partners to ‘establish a new digital public order in the wake of the Paris Call and the Christchurch Call to Action, which, since 2019, has enabled us to take decisive action to remove terrorist content from the Internet’. Belarus also highlighted the ‘malicious and criminal use of modern information technologies that fuel extremism and terrorism’.

Fake news 

Israel spoke about the role of fake news in political polarisation, stating that ‘In a polarized world, where algorithms fuel our anger, people on the right and on the left operate in two separate realities, each in their own social media bubble, they hear only the voices that confirm what they already believe in. People end up hating each other. Societies – get torn apart’. Canada noted that the spread of systematic misinformation and propaganda on social media and the internet shone light on the risks and dangers of the digital revolution. Cameroon mentioned social media misuse as one of the scourges plaguing humanity. Belarus made a reference to information fakes. 

Sustainable development

Oman stressed that global partnerships in scientific and technological progress are needed to maximise the use of advanced technologies and keep pace with them, as part of the sustainable development goals.

Digital divide

Guinea noted that the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the world’s dependence on technology and digital connectivity. However, many still lack access to the internet, which increases inequalities and ‘compromises the resilience of the most vulnerable and requires urgent measures’, including the construction of digital infrastructures. Canada only acknowledged the topic: ‘we know there is a digital divide’. Nepal also emphasised the importance of connectivity.

Digital taxation

According to France, introduction of a minimum universal 15% tax for multinational companies will help regulate ‘increasingly irresponsible behaviours’ online. France called on all countries to support this measure, and encouraged its international partners to adopt actual legislation on digital markets like France and its European partners.

Digital economy 

Trinidad and Tobago noted that their newly established Ministry of Digital Transformation is leading efforts to create a competitive digitally-driven economy. They also highlighted that the misuse of digital technology can pose serious threats to economies and societies, and appropriate mechanisms must be developed to minimise its use as a disruptive tool.

25 September: Vaccine apartheid and climate failure

There wasn’t a single speech at this year’s general debate that didn’t address the COVID-19 pandemic or climate change or both. But most of them covered other topics as well, either the titular sustainable rebuilding, respecting the rights of people and revitalising the UN, or matters of national or regional concern. Yet Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston A. Browne dedicated his speech solely to the pandemic and the environment. 

Calling discrimination against vaccines produced outside of North America and Europe ‘a form of vaccine apartheid’ and action on climate change ‘a failure’, Browne noted that COVID-19 and climate change are ‘the two overarching issues that confront mankind’. He then maintained that ‘dealing with them successfully is what will give future generations a chance to live in peace, prosperity and safety. Those generations are our children and grandchildren. So what future do we want for them?’

Gaston A. Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, addresses the general debate of the 76th UNGA.Gaston A. Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, addresses the general debate of the 76th UNGA. (Credit: United Nations official YouTube channel)

‘Our Common Agenda’

The ‘blueprint’ for a better, greener, and safer future is the Secretary General’s ‘Our Common Agenda’, noted Fiji, adding that they would humbly add ‘bluer’ to the original concept. Our action and inaction directly affects the future of the youth, and a new UN that ‘enlists the dynamism of young people’ is needed, Fiji stated.

The Secretary-General’s report was backed by a number of countries, such as Bhutan, Samoa, Liechtenstein, and Singapore who reiterated their commitment to working together to advance the ideas outlined in the report. While Bhutan noted that ‘Our Common Agenda’ offers a ‘good reference point for our collective progress’, Samoa stated that the world is at an ‘inflection point in history. We either breakdown or break through. I believe we should not surrender to a future of perpetual crises but choose hope through urgent, decisive and united action,’ the Samoan delegate added. On the same note, Singapore voiced that the Common Agenda ‘lays out a way forward, on a global ‘digital technology track’’. Thailand also congratulated the Secretary-General for his ‘Our Common Agenda’ report.

Digital issues

Digital cooperation

New challenges such as digital cooperation need to be undertaken, stated Andorra. Thailand also noted that the global community should deepen collaboration on cyber issues, while Singapore noted that the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation outlines many important digital issues.

Cybersecurity

Criminals are more advanced than nation states in digital technologies, and ‘Incidents of hacking, virus attacks, access and dissemination and misuse of information and network security can no longer be ignored,’ Samoa underlined. The country highlighted the importance of the UN cybercrime process drafting a new cybercrime treaty, which Russia echoed. Russia also brought forward ‘states’ intention to militarize the internet and unleash a cyber arms race’ and advocated for countries to come up with ‘standard norms for state’s responsible behavior in the use of ICTs’ at the UN. Such a process should be based on ‘universal agreements allowing to examine any concerns in a transparent manner, relying on facts’

Digital transformation

Dedicating 7 minutes out of its 17 minute speech to digital issues, Singapore stressed the importance of digital transformation. Singapore noted ‘the gulf of opportunities between digital haves and digital have-nots has also widened’ and noted that digital transformation is needed to close the digital divide. It cautioned that if the digital divide is not closed, sustainable development goals will not be achieved

 There is already much work being done. But we need to give these efforts a stronger push, through education, training, and, improving digital skills and literacy across the board; investing in infrastructure, for universal and affordable internet connectivity; and expanding access to data and digital public goods, including open-source software and digital utilities. We can do much more to improve international data governance, to promote inter-operability, trust, and security when we transact in the digital environment.

To enhance multilateral cooperation to leverage digital technologies for sustainable development, Singapore is advocating for a new global digital architecture. It should be shaped by a few guiding principles: inclusive of small states, people-focused, multistakeholder, multidisciplinary, and undertaking concrete action through identifying a common set of ‘digital development goals’ and a framework for multilateral cooperation

The country also noted that: ‘There are many paths we can take: the Secretary-General’s proposal for a Global Digital Compact, or a new UN convention on digital transformation for sustainable development, or a framework of norms and principles.’ while adding that the global ‘digital technology track’ described in the Common Agenda also lays out a way forward.

Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore, addresses the general debate of the 76th UNGA.Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Singapore, addresses the general debate of the 76th UNGA. (Credit: Official YouTube channel) 

Digital economy

Cambodia announced its intention to push for a more advanced digital transformation for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), women, and youth entrepreneurship in ASEAN. Similarly, Fiji stated its readiness to ‘accelerate investment trends, like increased digitization’, that will modernize the country’s economy and help it recover. The first mention of cryptocurrencies at this general debate came from Bhutan, who is working on a digital national currency Ngultrum using blockchain technology. Bhutan also referred to the national Integrated Taxation System, a system to digitalise taxation in the country.

Online education

Lack of access to online education was a big setback for students, Eswatini underlined, because many countries were not ready to pursue online education. Bhutan also made a passing reference to ‘ICTisation’ of its schools. 

Digital identities

Aware that the path ahead is ICT driven, Bhutan noted that they ‘started digital initiatives with the ultimate goal for everyone in Bhutan to have a digital ID, as a build-up for Big Data system’. Bhutan also mentioned electronic patient information management. In the same vein, the Indian delegate stressed that the very fact that a developing country like India launched Aadhar, the world’s biggest digital identification program, ‘gives the world a new hope’.

What’s next from Diplo on UNGA?

Our regular monthly briefing will focus on the UNGA analysis, so please join us tomorrow, Tuesday, 28 September on Zoom, YouTube or Facebook live. We will also prepare an overview of the entire general debate in the form of a report, towards the end of this week.

24 September: Has the needle moved?

In the most unorthodox speech delivered since the start of this year’s general debate, Barbados Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley read from her phone: 

If I use the speech prepared for me to deliver today it would be a repetition. A repetition of what you have heard from others, and also from me, equally. How many more times will we then have a situation where we say the same thing over and over and over to come to not? My friends, we cannot do that anymore […] the needle has not moved, and [that] we have not seen sufficient action on behalf of the people of this world. 

Mottley’s remarks are a stark reminder that speeches are remarkably similar and their similarities have repeated for years. Most countries urged each other to band together in solidarity, but not all of them referred to the path set out in the Secretary General’s ‘Our Common Agenda’.

‘The secretary general’s speech said it all, but who will stand in here and support him?’ Mottley asked.

Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, addresses the general debate of the 76th General Assembly on Friday, 24 September 2021Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, addresses the general debate of the 76th General Assembly on Friday, 24 September 2021. (Credit: United Nations YouTube channel) 

‘Our Common Agenda’

Interestingly, Mottley’s remarks came on the day we saw the biggest outpour of support for the SG’s initiative. Mauritius, Japan, Albania, and The Netherlands enthusiastically endorsed the UN SG’s report ‘Our Common Agenda. 

Many countries highlighted specific aspects of the agenda and even made the first proposals on how to implement it. Sweden, in cooperation with Spain, has launched a network of leaders to help carry the common agenda forward and is ready to support preparations for a ‘Summit of the Future’ in 2023.  Luxembourg endorsed the call for a new social contract and highlighted working in a network for ‘a stronger, more inclusive multilateral system’. Denmark’s statement called for renewed social contracts between governments and peoples from local to global levels. 

Ireland stressed the relevance of the UN SG’s report for ‘an inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism’. In addition to strengthening multilateralism, New Zealand highlighted the importance of the rights of future generations. Papua New Guinea sees ‘Our Common Agenda’ as a way to strengthen multilateral systems and institutions, including a need for a UN Security Council reform. Belize sees the report as a way to accelerate the implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. For Belgium, reference to ‘a new era of universal social protection’ in the common agenda has high relevance. 

Digital issues

Digital cooperation

As was the case yesterday, one country expressed support for the Roadmap on Digital Cooperation. Jamaica advocated for an increased digital alliance within the global community, and noted that countries need robust and resilient digital infrastructure as digital connectivity is needed to ensure inclusive and sustainable development.

Digital divide

‘Today, we see some countries receiving a ‘digital dividend’ while others

suffer the consequences of a ‘digital divide’. […] Leaving no one behind today means leaving no one offline,’ Jamaica noted. The divide must be addressed with greater engagement of private and public sectors. The EU said it will mobilise the private sectors to invest in infrastructure and new technologies, and Papua New Guinea has already been expanding its information and telecommunication networks.

St Kitts and Nevis noted that digital accessibility, affordability, and technical assistance must be re-examined so that all countries can exploit the digital economy. Malta aims to fast track its further digitalisation to make digital services accessible to all citizens. Gambia noted that digitalisation should be one of the focus areas of ‘building back better’ initiatives. 

Bangladesh and Serbia described their already existing initiatives. Bangladesh spoke about the positive impact of the ‘Digital Bangladesh’ initiative on socio-economic development, education, disaster risk reduction, women’s empowerment, and more. Serbia spoke about its e-government services and a central software system which drove the vaccination roll out.

Online education

Serbia also mentioned its online education initiative and digital textbooks. Jamaica shared its plan of improving digital literacy, through 50% increased access to, and use of ICTs in collaboration with the private sector. Bangladesh stressed that ‘we need a global plan to prioritise education recovery by investing in digital tools and services, access to internet, and capacity building of teachers’, and called the UN to rally countries and resources to make that happen.

Access to data

Access to data was also brought up in three speeches. Barbados noted that ‘so few have access to data and knowledge.’ Japan noted that it will ‘exercise its leadership’ in digital technology via advancing the Data Free Flow with Trust in order to ‘counter protectionism and inward-looking tendencies’. Lastly, Lebanon requested that states, which possess information and satellite data that can help the investigation of the explosion in the Beirut port, share them as needed.

Cybersecurity 

Kuwait warned about uncontrolled progress of modern technology, and its ramifications on cybersecurity. Slovenia highlighted the vulnerabilities that come from dependence on digital space and the damage cyberattacks can cause on critical infrastructure, economy, society. Cyberattacks can even lead to loss of life, Slovenia cautioned. Australia also mentioned cyberthreats as one of the challenges we face today, while Germany was more specific in calling hybrid and digital conflicts a threat. 

Yesterday’s lone mention of cybercrime came from Mauritius, which noted that cybercrime must be addressed globally and expressed its support for the elaboration of an international convention on cybercrime.

Fake news

Infodemics (information epidemics) have thrived in cyberspace during the pandemic, Mauritius noted. Australia also mentioned disinformation as one of the challenges we face today. Barbados posed the question: ‘How much more fake news will we allow to be spread without states defending the public digital spaces?’

Emerging technologies 

Japan was the only country that mentioned new technologies, emphasising that they must not be used to undermine universal values.

What’s next from Diplo on UNGA?

The general debate will be on pause on Sunday, and we’ll be resting as well. The analysis of Saturday’s speeches will be out on Monday, 27 September. And our regular monthly briefing will focus on the UNGA analysis, so please join us on Tuesday, 28 September on Zoom, YouTube or Facebook live.

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23 September: Technology to the rescue?

The world is currently grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and countless other challenges. Just like in previous days, on 23 September, world leaders underlined solidarity for resolving these challenges, and calling for multilateralism to evolve. But El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who famously took a selfie at the speaker’s floor in 2019, noted: ‘We live in a world interconnected, globalised and with the technology to easily solve all these problems, but without the slightest will to do it’.

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, addressed the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in a pre-recorded statement

El Salvador’s president, Nayib Bukele, addressed the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in a pre-recorded statement. (Source: United Nations YouTube channel)

The reaction of countries to ‘Our Common Agenda’ is one of the topics this reporting will be tackling today, followed by an analysis of the digital issues covered and our hybrid diplomacy map.

‘Our Common Agenda’

El Salvador, ‘instead of calling for a re-founding of multilateralism towards a new model’, stated that it will ‘go on its own way […] towards development […] designing the future we want to live’. It rather seems like El Salvador does not agree with the spirit of solidarity of the UN Secretary-General’s ‘Our Common Agenda’. 

The report was welcomed by Burundi and Tanzania. Guyana noted that the agenda is the framework of emergence of a post-COVID era, and highlighted ‘the principle of working together, recognizing that we are bound to each other and that no community or country, however powerful, can solve its challenges alone’. For Montenegro, taking the path of ‘Our Common Agenda’ means ‘opting for the future that will be based on the highest values of equality and justice, responsibility and solidarity, and not on the retrograde ideologies, selfishness and cheap populism’. North Macedonia stressed that ‘Our Common Agenda’ ‘reaffirms the core values of the organization and offers concrete proposals for a more effective United Nations, based on inclusive multilateralism’. Nauru noted that they agree with many of the proposals of the agenda in spirit, but believe it should also include the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Digital issues

Digital cooperation

Another UN SG report, the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, was mentioned yesterday. The roadmap points to the essential challenges when it comes to connecting 3 billion people to the internet, Monaco pointed out. An indirect reference to the document was made by Montenegro, which underlined that strengthening multilateralism should come with strengthening cooperation in the digital sphere in light of the influence of technology on the post-COVID-19 recovery and the implementation of the SDGs.

Digital divide

The digital divide and the need for digitalisation were also addressed during the third day of the UNGA. Bolivia highlighted that while digital technologies and e-commerce can help economic recovery, the digital divide prevents these benefits from being shared equitably. Monaco and Comoros underlined that reducing the digital divide is a priority and urgent action is needed to do so. 

Gabon underlined that digital transformation needs to be accelerated urgently. Botswana mentioned digitalising its government services and enabling conditionsfor the active involvement of the private sector and society in the uptake and utilisation of digital technologies’. The use of mobile technology for financial transactions have increased in Uganda. Kiribati stated that improvement of national digital connectivity is a priority because ‘digital trade holds great potential for inclusive growth and socio-economic development’. Burundi is reforming its education system to ‘create a technically capable youth’. Azerbaijan will build smart cities and smart villages.

Cybersecurity

Sudden digitalisation pushing new users to the digital sphere, ‘created a vulnerable and inexperienced group of users’ which are perfect targets for cybercrime, Hungary pointed out. The country urged ‘to put in place a strict international regulation that can protect our children and families from spreading extremist ideologies on the internet, or sexual propaganda, or cyberbullying’. Micronesia also brought up cybercrime, noting that the country is looking to ‘pass legislation on cybercrimes’. Zimbabwe listed cybercrime as one of the threats to peace and security, while Monaco and the Czech Republic noted that there is an increase of cyberattacks against critical infrastructure. This can cause grave suffering to civilians, the Czech Republic highlighted, and it is undermining the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, as Monaco stated.

Emerging technologies

Monaco warned that the environmental impact of new technologies should be looked at, as new technologies consume a lot of energy. ‘The geopolitics of technology continues to pose an ever-greater challenge to the established norms,’ noted the Czech Republic, but new technologies are not a new frontier where human rights do not exist, Austria added. New digital technologies should remain an enabler of human progress rather than a tool for surveillance, oppression, and control, stressed the Czech Republic. Both countries gave artificial intelligence (AI) as an example, while Austria added quantum computing.

LAWS

Austria was the only country that mentioned lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), even as the UN Group of Governmental Experts on emerging technologies in the area of LAWS (GGE on LAWS) is slated to meet next week. They stated: ‘We need to define clear red lines that we as humankind are not willing to cross. This includes stepping back from creating killing machines – lethal autonomous weapons systems – systems where an algorithm decides in a split second who lives and who dies’. Austria expressed hope to ‘establish a process leading to a ban of killer robots’ with partner countries and civil society.

// Disinformation on social media //

Three countries brought up disinformation campaigns on social media. Monaco noted that a ‘fine balance remains to be found between, on the one hand, disinformation, hate speech, conspiracy theories and, on the other hand, respect for fundamental freedoms’. Comoros brought up the negative effects of disinformation campaigns, noting that they ‘harm a serene climate within our islands’. The Czech Republic highlighted the negative effect of disinformation on citizen health, safety, and trust in institutions. They also stressed that ‘using disinformation as a means of aggression against other states is utterly unacceptable’. 

22 September: A time machine at East River

After the rights of future generations were introduced in the UN Secretary-General’s report ‘Our Common Agenda’, the temporal aspect of humanity’s actions was still in demand at the 76th UN General Assembly (UNGA). To be more specific, the UK statement was like a time machine bringing us from the dawn of civilisation to the future: 

An inspection of the fossil record over the last 178 million years –since mammals first appeared –reveals that the average mammalian species exists for about a million years before it evolves into something else or vanishes into extinction. Of our allotted lifespan of a million, humanity has been around for about 200,000. In other words, we are still collectively a youngster. 

Britain’s Prime Minister pointed out, and teenage days are tricky in human lives as these years are tricky for humanity. The UK suggested how to address climate change, one of the thorniest issues of our time with enormous impact on the future, as they look for a major breakthrough during the Climate Summit in Glasgow in November.

Boris Johnson is addressing UN General Assembly in New York (September 20210

Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, addressed the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. (Source: BBC)

‘Our Common Agenda’

Moldova, Cabo Verde, Djibouti, Spain welcomed ‘Our Common Agenda’ in their statements. While Kenya quoted ‘Humanity faces a stark and urgent choice: breakdown or breakthrough’. Norway pointed out that mistrust in and between countries pointed to in the agenda can be reduced by democracy.

Spain committed to strive for the fulfillment of the agenda. Cabo Verde expressed support for the Summit of the Future, namely, ‘to forge a new global consensus on what our future should look like and how we can ensure it’.

Digital issues

Highlighting the importance of the digital economy, Estonia, who usually puts a heavy focus on digital issues in their speech at the UNGA, noted that digital technologies can help increase the efficiency of small countries with limited resources. 

President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. Estonia is the country that has made the most references to digital policy at UNGA76 so far

President Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. Estonia is the country that has made the most references to digital policy at UNGA76 so far. (Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak)

Kazakhstan warned that economic recovery is dependent on technology, and that an ‘‘economic iron curtain’ scenario, in which different technologies and rules split the global economy, is becoming more likely’. States which would want to trade tech-related supplies globally ‘could be forced to form a ‘Technological Non-Alignment Movement’ to mitigate risks at the intersection of technologies and geopolitics’.

Moldova revealed their ambitious plans for digitalisation of the economy and the public sector. Similarly, Mongolia noted that it has carried out a major electronic transition of its public services to ensure transparency, accountability, and good governance. In order to become a ‘Digital Nation’, Mongolia has set the aim of transferring ‘at least 90 percent of all public services available on the integrated ‘E-Mongolia’ system’. Vietnam noted that the pandemic is an ‘opportunity for digital transformation, utilization of novel technologies, and enhanced productivity, competitiveness and self-reliance of our economies’.

The digital divide was addressed by Estonia, Guatemala and Suriname. Estonia noted that even though it is important not to let the ability of digital technologies to serve as equalizers out of sight and attention should be paid to emerging negative trends such as digital inequality and divides. To tackle such challenges, Estonia called for cooperation, shared values, principles, and interests which could ultimately help improve trust in digital space. Guatemala underlined the ‘urgent need for educational reform that bridges the digital divide’. Suriname has also called on all stakeholders to pay greater attention to the widening digital divide. 

Estonia expressed its regret for the disruption caused by the pandemic to its interstate cooperation initiatives on digital development and digital in development. It still specified that online communication has, nonetheless, helped pursue and deliver projects on education and development of e-court services. Other countries such as Sierra Leone also addressed the application of new technologies in education which became paramount during the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, Sierra Leone said that the country promoted the use of creative solutions and approaches, including nationwide distance learning and hybrid education technologies. 

Estonia also addressed the interplay between digital technologies and the environment. It announced the launch of a global alliance – Data for the Environment Alliance (DEAL) that aims to bring together states in order to develop digital solutions to environmental challenges and improve the quality and accessibility of environmental data. In a similar context, the UK also shed light on the role that emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics can play in fostering a green industrial revolution. Honduras noted that smart agriculture with high technology is utilised in irrigation and for increased food productivity, such as using water from destructive rains.

Tackling the security dimension of digital transformation, Estonia reiterated its support for the applicability of international law, including the UN Charter, international humanitarian law, human rights law in cyberspace. Sierra Leone also confirmed its readiness to work closely with partners on the issue of cybersecurity.

Cabo Verde highlighted the use of online and digital communications for UNGA meetings. 

21 September: The UN Secretary-General’s passionate plea for the future

Our first daily report starts with the analysis of 36 statements delivered on the first day of the UNGA on 21 September. Held in a hybrid format, statements were delivered both in situ at the UN in New York and online. The main focus of our reporting will be on three sets of issues this week: digital policy, response to the UN SG report ‘Our Common Agenda’, and challenges of hybrid meetings.

The general debate of the 76th UN General Assembly (UNGA) kicked off with a very passionate speech by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres. ‘Our world has never been more threatened, and we have to make many crucial choices on what we face today such as peace and security, health, inequalities but even more what is ahead of us in terms of climate change and digital developments’. After this dire warning, Guterres suggested a way out, elaborated in his report ‘Our Common Agenda’. The agenda features politically brave proposals, such as the need for a renewed social contract and the protection of rights of future generations.

‘Our Common Agenda’

Peru referred to ‘Our Common Agenda’ by noting that a new social contract should address growing inequalities in the modern world as well as educational gaps: ‘a new global social contract should be reflected thus, given the serious impact of the pandemic on schools and education, it should be reflected thus in an initiative to universalize education’. Costa Rica called for the new social contract to make welfare a circular good. Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Slovakia, and Romania welcomed ‘Our Common Agenda’ in their statements.

Digital issues

Many countries merely touched upon the importance of tech developments, such as China mentioning ‘technological revolution’, and Portugal ‘digital transformation’.

Meanwhile, Qatar elaborated on the need for the UN to regulate according to the rules of international law in order ‘to prevent the misuse of the scientific progress in cybersecurity’. They also warned of the ‘pandemic of fake news’; a warning echoed by Lithuania calling for a ‘holistic approach and concrete new ways to get better in detecting, analyzing, and exposing disinformation’.

Latvia called for new legal principles to deal with new risks posed by digital transformation, misinformation, and artificial intelligence (AI). Latvia also called for combating disinformation. They highlighted that new rules should not create risks for human rights and freedoms as ‘the lines between freedom of speech, accountability and censorship are thin and fragile’. Cybersecurity, hate speech, and fighting against cybercrime featured in Romania’s statement.

Focus on cybersecurity continued with Croatia stressing the threats against critical health infrastructure especially in times of crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

The USA named emerging technologies as the third major issue after COVID-19 recovery and the need for climate change. They called for ‘clear rules of the road for all nations as it relates to cyberspace’ but also communicated ‘the right to respond decisively to cyberattacks that threaten our people, our allies, or our interests’.

It remains to be seen if global efforts on digital technology will be affected by the US intention to ‘work together with our democratic partners to ensure that new advances in areas from biotechnology, to quantum computing, 5G, artificial intelligence, and more are used to lift people up, to solve problems, and advance human freedom — not to suppress dissent or target minority communities’.

Switzerland stressed their work ‘to promote responsible state behaviour and the application of international law in cyberspace’ and its participation in ‘efforts to combat cybercrime’. They also stressed Geneva’s role as a global centre for digital policy and networking. Another highlight was government cooperation with the private sector and academia to find innovative technology for poverty reduction projects. Finally, they mentioned their hosting of the forthcoming UN World Data Forum in Bern between 3-6 October Bern.

Lithuania made a parallel between digital and green transformation. The country also warned about the risks of hybrid attacks and misinformation. It called for ‘holistic approach and concrete new ways to get better in detecting, analyzing, and exposing disinformation’.

Many other countries have mentioned the security of ICTs and supply chains in the context of fighting the pandemic, such as Bulgaria, Zambia, and the Republic of Korea.

Colombia highlighted that technological advances, such as the internet of things (IoT), AI, cybersecurity, and cloud computing are opportunities for human development.

While 13 countries made references to digital issues, it seems like this year digital issues lost prominence compared to climate change, COVID-19, and geopolitical crises.

Diplo’s map of hybrid diplomacy

We bring you the map of hybrid diplomacy, i.e, we mapped out which countries delivered their statements from the Great Hall in New York and which have sent in pre-recorded videos online so far. You can click on the image below to access the interactive version!

Diplo’s analysis of UNGA statements of the past five years

Illustration: individuals watching a presentation of a yearly graph.

The past few years have shown how digital policy issues have become a staple in world leaders’ speeches delivered during the General Debate of the UNGA. 

Dive into our past analysis to connect the dots and observe emergent trends.